Howard Stern: King of All Franchises?
For decades, Howard Stern has proclaimed himself the King of All Media a brand was that was initially a parody of an aging pop star that was skillfully woven into the media lexicon that exists to this day. He should also be considered the “King of All Franchises,” as his universe continues to defy the most skeptical media commentators.
The Stern Franchise can be compared to the biggest blockbuster film series or successful TV enterprise. The King of All Media has succeeded in radio, film, TV, books, pay-per-view and web that continue to transcend.
Twenty years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Howard Stern for a demonstration for an early desktop video product. At the time, I was not a fan of Stern’s. I was barely familiar with his local Channel-9 series and never listened to his morning radio show. Waiting in his office during his show, we drank Snapple Ice Tea (a sponsor) and sat around for a little over an hour listening to his broadcast playing over the speaker.
It seemed that his entire enterprise was crammed into that office. At one side was a young kid, logging the show on a computer. Howard’s desk was facing out toward the room with a couch and love seat in a semi-circle in front. In one corner was stacks of Snapple and Brother Printer gear (another sponsor), and a mini-shrine to the late comedian Sam Kinison on the wall.
Behind the closed office door were sketches of producer Gary and Scott the Engineer on taped sheets of white paper, each like they were drawn by 6 year olds. The drawings depicted these poor malcontents in various form of physical deformity familiar to loyal listeners. Whether it was the oversized molars of Gary or bad toupee of Scott, we were all getting a kick out of the Stern crew personal doodles. Alas, I did not have a camera and none of the sheets mysteriously disappeared from the door.
Howard was impressed by the product, mentioning that his just-cancelled Channel 9 could of benefited from the unit and even marveled that the company was located in Topeka, a remote enough area attractive to his hermit-like lifestyle. After a few minutes, he called the rest of the radio crew over to check it out. One by one, Robin Quivers, Jackie Martling, Fred Norris, Scott Salem and Gary Dell’Abate crowded around the sitting Howard, asking questions, laughing and clearly enjoying each other’s company. It was a rare glimpse of the private Howard Stern away from the microphone and his on-air persona.
I was getting a kick out of watching them interact. They were good friends, incredibly loyal and protective of their fearless leader. This was over 20 years ago, and all but one are still plugging away with Howard. Their little world has grown considerably, with a larger staff, additional wack-packers, regular callers and devoted listeners, but the franchise evolved along with Howard’s growth.
I became a Howard Stern fan that day. Not because of the endless parade of strippers and porn stars. Not because of the outrageous comments. It was because of the intimate synergy of that core group. I paid attention to the man behind the curtain that day. Yes he was a nice guy and nothing like the on-air persona the world is familiar with. There were no sex toys on his desk or stripper pole in the middle of his office. He was just a guy trying to make a living and determined to succeed in that career choice.
Howard’s influence on the culture is a subject most are not wont to discuss. Most are familiar with the outrageous comments that have appeared on the TV news when he was on regular radio. What mainstream media never admits is that they ran stories on Howard not to report the news but to lift their ratings. Free advertising and brand marketing are two streams of information Howard has skillfully utilized, and the news was complicit just as much as some of the public has been outraged.
The evolution of Howard Stern continues to plod forward, a systematic plan that seems improvisational, but is a calculated model Stern continues to build upon with delicate precision. Critics continue to say his time is up, not for knowledgeable prediction, but to generate hits in today’s world of brand journalism.
His career has been forecasted to end so many times, it’s a wonder if there any real media experts to believe anymore. It ended when he was fired from NBC; fined by the FCC; kicked off terrestrial radio; attacked by politicians and morality groups. Yet he is still here. No one is more shocked than me, a loyal listener, who recently introduced my two young daughters to Judge Howard Stern and America’s Got Talent. And they love him.
For over 30 years, Howard Stern has defied the naysayers and reinvented himself for a family audience, the most shocking career path full of twists and turns. His interview skills have matured to a degree that media students in college should study to better prepare them after graduation. I diligently studied his technique, which has elevated the Q&A for my documentary considerably.
Tonight, celebrities and devoted listeners alike have come together to honor Howard Stern for his 60th birthday at the Hammerstein Ballroom. People are clamoring to meet members of the wack pack; an assorted collection of society misfits Stern has elevated to A-list status in this little world of 20+ million fans.
His next move promises to be the biggest one yet. We can only speculate on what that will be, but the signs are there that the King of All Franchises has some more entertainment to deliver.
Happy Birthday Howard!
Peace and love. Peace and love.